Stress at Christmas can come from a number of places. It could be from being the host of the family lunch. It could be from having to deal with difficult family members. Or it could just be the whole chaotic swirl of so much happening at once: presents, food, excitement, friends, sugar, family and the inevitable sugar-led emotional crash at the end of so much activity.
Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a mindfulness coach and all-round enlightened human being with an extraordinary level of compassion for parents.
She also does Kinderling's guided meditations for both adults and kids - check out her regular podcasts, Bedtime Explorers and Daytime Explorers. If you’ve heard her on air you’ll know you’re in good hands.
Here are Amy’s tips for managing the stress of Christmas.
1. Accept that Christmas can be crazy
Every year Amy says she expects herself to be more organized than the year before. And every year it’s the same. According to Amy the key is to let go of your expectations, and accept that this time of year can be busy.
“Let’s get real about this time and stop believing that if only we were better people it would be a better time. Let’s accept it’s busy, it’s chaotic, it is what it is, [now] how am I going to make the best of this situation? Let’s stop expecting ourselves to be different.”
2. Failures can make excellent memories
We strive to make special memories for our kids on Christmas day. Don’t even start me on what I’ve done this year to make the ideal advent calendar for my kids. But Amy says that’s missing the point.
“We put these crazy expectations on ourselves that our children will only have great memories if they’re perfect. In fact, the best memories come from those moments of ‘the fridge is broken guys everyone’s having cheese on toast on the floor.’ We need to drop this expectation that we’re meant to be perfect.”
Letting go of our expectations of perfection can also give us the freedom to laugh at our mistakes (and enjoy ourselves more).
3. Be clear what your values are
Amy recommends that we sit down with our partners and clarify what Christmas means to our family. Do you want your kids to be close to your extended family? Or is it more important that your own little family has some time together to connect and relax?
“So much of our struggle comes from unconsciously doing whatever we think we should, and I can’t tell you how important it is to regularly check in with your partner and say, ‘Is this really what we want to be doing?’ Sometimes the answer is really uncomfortable because it’s means you’re going to have to hurt some people. But in the long run what’s more important? Dragging them along to a place they don’t want to be and you don’t want to be? Or saying, ‘I love you but this year we’re going to focus on ourselves’.”
4. Be aware of the stories you tell yourself
You may have spent the whole year avoiding that one family member who rubs you the wrong way and then suddenly they’re right beside you at the Christmas table. Up close and unavoidable.
Amy says that even before you’ve seen our nemesis, you’re already preparing for a fight.
“We’re already picturing in our mind this is going to be hard, this is going to be difficult, she’s going to push my buttons. You walk in with that armour up, looking for evidence that it’s just as bad as you knew it was going to be.”
The secret, she says, is changing the story you’re telling yourself. Shift your focus from their behaviour to your own thoughts and actions. Imagine how you’d like to be in that situation.
“Picture yourself being calm and graceful and just letting things slide off your back. Just picture yourself how differently you’re going to handle it this year. Not with this tough, stuck energy of ‘I hate this but I’m just going to get through it’. It’s more of a letting go and accepting it for what it is, and being proud of how you dealt with it. Focus on how you deal with it, never focus on their energy, or their actions, because that’s something we can’t control.”
5. Regulate your emotions at different points of the day
With so much going on our thoughts and emotions can get out of control. Regulating your emotions just means tuning in to what’s going on. Where are you feeling stress in your body? What are you thinking about? Are you worrying about something? Are you feeling overwhelmed?
The easiest way to regulate all of those feelings is to check in with your breathing. Breathe in for 5 counts, hold your breath for 5, breathe out for 5, hold your breath for 5.
“Because you’re focusing on your breath rather than the noise inside your head it allows a little bit of space. You can literally catch your breath. It sends your whole body the message of ‘this is not time to panic, this is not time to be anxious, this is not the time to be overwhelmed, everything is ok.”
6. Don’t forget to check in with the kids
I know. It’s not like you get to Christmas and suddenly Santa is looking after your children.
But Amy says it’s important to remember that while you’re pottering about looking after the adults in the house, your children need your attention too.
It can be a lot of fun opening presents, eating lollies and playing with other kids, but Christmas can be a big day for little people.
You know your child best, so you’ll know when they need some quiet time, a halt to the oodles of lollies, or even if they need to leave early.
At the end of the day, it’s really about them isn’t it?
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